Oh My Daughter Clementine
Clementine has no last name, her father no name at all, the location of the mine forgotten, its golden riches unclaimed.
All we know is that father and daughter were forty-niners and took part in the 1849 California Gold Rush. Like most forty-niners, we can assume they came from back east, hoping to cash in on the discovery of gold along the banks of the South Fork American River in California. Like Sweet Betsy from Pike, it is likely they came by covered wagon, carrying with them their worldly possessions and provisions for mining.
The original lyrics place them in a canyon, in a cavern, and that makes sense, since the gold flakes the miners first sought washed down the creeks and rivers and deposited along the banks, where the miners built sluices to wash the small golden flakes and rocks from the ordinary sand and small stones. This briny water was either put back into the river or into a small holding pond, like the one Clementine fell into.
I have chosen to put them high in the mountains, only because it seems more isolated and lonely.
In a cabin, in the mountains,
Excavating for a mine,
Dwelt a miner forty-niner,
And his daughter Clementine
Light she was, as a fairy,
But her shoes were number nine;
Oh so lovely and unmarried
Golden locks, a cotton frock, holey socks
Hand me downs, for Clementine
Drove she ducklings to the water,
Every morning just at nine;
Stubbed her toe on a pebble,
Hit her foot against a splinter,
Fell into the foaming brine
Ruby lips in the water,
Blowing bubbles, soft and fine;
Not a peep, not a whisper,
As she slipped beneath the water
But Alas! the father weren't no swimmer,
So he lost his Clementine
So the miner, forty-niner
Sad and lonely, began to pine
Neither whiskey nor a jug of wine
Dulled the thought, that he missed her
Thought he oughter, join his daughter in the water
Now he's with his Clementine
Though I loved you, and I sought you
I was slow to make the journey
I was worried, and I feared,
I had no words with which to woo you
So I stayed far behind
Oh my darling, Oh my darling,
Oh my darling Clementine,
You are lost and gone forever,
Dreadful sorry Clementine.
The lyrics to Oh My Darling Clementine were published 1884, a scant 35 years after 1849, and thus within living memory of the exploits of Clementine and her father.
The words are credited to Percy Montrose, who adapted the tune and the story from an earlier song, Down the River Liv'd a Maiden written by Henry S. Thompson, first published 1863. Our Percy Montrose is otherwise unknown. He is the miner, who wrote the lyrics before joining his daughter Clementine, or the bashful lover who dallied and waited to long to claim his love.
The lyrics, of course, have endless variations.